I’ve always had a fascination with how things are made. Typically, things that are important to me. When I was a kid, it was chicken nuggets (hint, it’s gross). Now, it’s mostly exciting things like debit cards and car tires.
I do make an exception, however, for anything related to racket sports. This blog is one of my few outlets into the sport and I’ll take every opportunity to share cool and interesting stuff with you! Today’s topic is how tennis balls are made.
Making tennis balls is no joke. They seem like a perfectly simply rubber item but, if I told you to go make one, where would you start? I’d probably start by going to the store, buying one, and writing my name on it.
Now, I’m not going to claim that knowing how tennis balls are made is going to make you a better tennis or badminton player. It won’t. It will be fascinating though and you’ll have something to tell your match mates about on the court this week!
So let’s check out the full-scale manufacturing process that is currently used by, in the case, Wilson.
How Are Tennis Balls Made (Full Video)
1. Knead the Rubber
The first step in making the tennis balls is to squeeze the rubber using a kneading machine. You use natural and synthetic rubbers because the materials have excellent qualities for tennis balls. On top of that, synthetic rubber is used because it is long-lasting and improves the bouncing characteristics of tennis balls.
2. Form Rubber Pellets
Use the compound material composed of kneaded rubber to create pellets that will later make the interior materials of the balls. A cutting machine should be used to cut the pellets into half-shells. Coat the half-shell pellets with an adhesive and allow them to bond tightly under high temperature and pressure. This process is known as vulcanization, and it enhances the chemical properties of rubber.
3. Inject Air Into the Half Shells
Using an air-injecting machine, pump a low pressure into the tennis balls that are manufactured for high altitude areas. On the other hand, inject high pressure into balls that are designed for low altitude areas. The pressure differences ensure that the balls have consistent bounces characteristics in both high and low altitude
4. Bathe the Nap in Glue
Using sandpaper, roughen the outer surfaces of the tennis balls. A rougher surface is preferred because it gathers and retains more glue. Run the balls through a drum composed of the adhesive compound so that their covers soak adequately with the glue.
5. Apply the Felt Material
Felt is used for covering the tennis balls. Run the two pieces of the dumbbell-shaped felt material through white, adhesive glue and use it to wrap the balls. The process can be done by hand or by using a machine. Higher accuracy is achieved by using hands to cover the balls with felt material.
6. Eliminate Air Bubbles
At this point, take the balls through another vulcanization process that will help in making the bonds between the two halves and those between the ball surfaces and the felt material tighter and firmer.
7. Package the Balls
Dry the tennis balls, test them, and steam them using specialized drying and steaming machines. The balls should then be packed in airtight containers for taking them to the market. It is essential to note that the team logos can be printed on the balls at this point before they are delivered to the teams or to the market.
At the end of the day, knowing how tennis balls are made is going to be more of a parlor-trick knowledge than anything. Feel free to whip your new-found information at parties to impress your date or embarrass your spouse anytime!
If anything, knowing how the amount of work that going into manufacturing tennis balls has given me a great appreciation of the game!